Do you know if there's a way to import an older SMF database into a new ElkArte installation when the SMF itself is not installed? Is a database with the SMF structure enough?
Yes. The importer does not need SMF files. I don't know if it supports SMF 1.1, though. In fact, I know next to nothing about the importer.
Well, there is an 1.1 importer. I'm not sure how effective it is at this moment, but it should work. Always test first. O:-)
May i pick this up - does the database need to be installed or does it work from just a backup file?
No, a backup file is not enough. :)
Everything of interest is in the database.
I know. Except, of course, custom avatars and user downloads. That's why i would like to see a documentation which tables need to be mapped to which in the target and have a script operation on the database backup into the new database (file). Language preferable AWK/Shell or maybe even perl. Or PHP-CLI.
Such an approach has the iMHO huge advantage of being able to develop the new site in a sandbox parallel to the old one which can still be productive. And then finally run the script and switch the production sites.
It is also an issue if You want to import a form into a new empty one under a different URL